Ski run & terrain
Nozawa Onsen gets lots of snow and like the other ski resorts near Nagano, the powder has moderate moisture content. It’s not Hokkaido light dry powder but it’s not the thick sludge that you commonly find in New Zealand, South America or California.
The top of the Nozawa ski resort has the lowest elevation of the main Nagano ski resorts (e.g. the top of Shiga Kogen is 655 metres higher), and considering the significant vertical of 1,085 metres, it’s not surprising that the quality of the snow can sometimes be a little second rate at the base. Snow cover in the lower areas can be thin early in the season and there are no snowmaking facilities.
Skiing for the Beginner
Nozawa Onsen is really well set up for beginners with large areas at all three of the main bases. Karasawa is a nice wide area and is typically pretty quiet because there aren’t many accommodations near here. The Nagasaka area is fine for beginners, whilst the Hikage is well set up and is the hub for many ski lessons. The only downsides of Hikage may be a throng of people and some really flat spots at the base which require poling, skating or walking.
Beginners can go up to the upper parts of the mountain on the Nagasaka Gondola and download at the end of the day. The 2km long Uenotaira run is really wide and perfect for learning.
Beginners with plenty of stamina can tackle the Rinkan course, a 5km long tree lined run that snakes its way down the mountain.
Nozawa Skiing for Intermediates
Despite 30 percent of the trails being rated as intermediate (orange), Nozawa Onsen probably isn’t fantastic for intermediates. The best spot for intermediates is at the top of the mountain in the Yamabiko area where there are a few trails. Challenge is one good course that loops nicely off the Challenge chair or Hikage gondola. Confident intermediates can hit the long Sky Line trail, but this requires a painfully long time to get back up to the top, and may not be accessible for intermediates if snow cover is thin. Otherwise any orange trails are just very short and require a commute along beginners’ runs.
For the Kids
Families typically hang out at the base areas, and the Hikage area in particular is popular with families. The Hikage base has a complimentary kids’ park with playground type equipment.
Terrain Park & Pipe
Whilst Nozawa Onsen has produced some ski racing Olympians, it’s unlikely to be the training ground for freestyling champions. The Nozawa ski resort only has a small terrain park with an assortment of a few little kickers, boxes and rails, and Uenotaira has a half pipe that’s sometimes formed.
Nozawa Onsen has plenty of great on-piste advanced terrain, some of which is delightfully steep. It’s probably amongst the steepest piste terrain in Japan. The runs are commonly covered in bumps, but after a big dump some of the black runs are epic. Scheider is a common favourite. It’s reasonably mellow with a maximum of 32 degrees, and the steeper Utopia will have you in utopia especially if it’s got freshies. The Challenge run has a maximum gradient of 39 degrees, but it’s rather popular and gets chopped up pretty quickly. Other classic steep black runs are Kurokura off the gondola mid station and Grandprix off the ridge, which border on being double black runs depending on conditions.
Of course the real joy for advanced riders can be found in the off-piste areas, particularly if moguls make your knees creak.
Expert Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Even though Nozawa Onsen and St Anton are sister resorts, there is little similarity between the two ski areas when it comes to expert and extreme terrain. Nozawa doesn’t have an ounce of the white knuckle terrain that can be found at St Anton. There are negligible super dooper steeps, chutes, or cliffs (and these are in the side country). However when the snow is happening, most experts will be kept very happy playing in the powder amongst the trees.
Off Piste Skiing
Off piste skiing is not officially permitted at Nozawa Onsen but they don’t seem to police it. Tree skiing at Nozawa Onsen is brilliant. A popular place for mellow off-piste skiing is either side of the top lift. For steeper tree skiing the Sky Line ridge provides some really awesome lines, so long as there is plenty of base.
The sidecountry is also impressive with some steep lines (including rock features and mini spines in parts) that pop back into the resort (eventually!). As with all ski resorts in Japan, if you go out of bounds you do so at your own risk and are responsible for the costs associated with any backcountry search and rescue. There is no avalanche control so only go into the backcountry areas with a transponder, shovel and probe, and the know-how associated with safely navigating the backcountry. Considering the presence of some cliffs in this area, it’s worthwhile getting a guide. If going into the backcountry, the resort is keen for you to submit a mountaineering card.